Ratner tower won’t play by city
A sliver of land caught in the crosshairs of two separate but equally
far-reaching development plans may find itself home to Brooklyn’s
tallest structure — a 620-foot office tower — regardless of
what might happen to it as it courses through the city’s public review
process under the guise of a residential parcel.
The site abuts the plot on which developer Bruce Ratner hopes to build
an arena for his recently-purchased New Jersey Nets basketball team. The
Empire State Development Corp., a state authority that would likely sponsor
a plan by Ratner to build that skyscraper, can override city zoning laws,
according to spokespersons for both the Department of City Planning and
the Economic Development Corporation.
The city-owned and MTA-leased site in question is on the corner of Flatbush
and Atlantic avenues, the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower, currently
Brooklyn’s tallest building.
Ratner’s Frank Gehry-designed office tower at that site would be
108 feet taller.
As described in a master proposal for Ratner’s Atlantic Yards development,
the skyscraper would be the dominant element of Gehry’s 13-building
design, which would include a 19,000-seat arena. Office towers and apartment
buildings round out the plan.
Just which state agency will sponsor the Ratner development will be decided
soon, said Joe Deplasco, a spokesman for Ratner’s Forest City Ratner
Company, who said the lead agency choice was “still under discussion.”
If the Ratner plan does, as expected, get sponsored by the Empire State
Development Corp., it would be held up to much less stringent public review
than under the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. Rather than
have its merits debated in at least four public hearings, a state review
would only require Ratner’s plan to be publicly scrutinized at an
environmental impact hearing under the State Environmental Quality Review
Atlantic Yards would be built on MTA-owned rail yards with the rest of
the parcel pieced together through state condemnations of private property
under its power of eminent domain.
“At a minimum, the City Council should be looking at both plans,
and at a minimum, they should be holding hearings on both plans,”
said Norman Siegel, the former head of the New York Civil Liberties Union,
who is representing many of the Prospect Heights residents who would be
The Atlantic Yards proposal is not nearly as far along as the Downtown
Brooklyn Plan, which is currently being reviewed by the City Planning
Commission, the third stop along the city’s ULURP process. Community
Board 2 failed to make a recommendation on the massive rezoning proposal
and Borough President Marty Markowitz approved the plan, sending along
to the planning commissioners a laundry list of suggested modifications
to the plan.
If approved by the City Planning Commission, the Downtown Plan would next
come before the City Council.
Under that plan, more than 60 blocks in the area roughly bounded by Tillary
and Schermerhorn streets, from Adams Street to Flatbush Avenue, would
be rezoned to allow for the development of 6.7 million square feet of
office space, 1 million square feet of retail, 1,000 units of housing
and 2,400 new parking spaces.
As for the sole Atlantic Yards site that overlaps with the Downtown Plan,
at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, the city is seeking
to rezone the commercial site to residential use.
“Our plan was done before the yards plan,” said Janel Patterson,
a spokeswoman for the Economic Development Corporation, which is a sponsor
of the Downtown Plan. “Doing that site residential seemed the most
practical scenario due to the small, odd shape of the site.”
And while it would seem that the zoning change would be a setback to Ratner’s
office tower plan, people familiar with city and state zoning laws tell
The Brooklyn Papers that with the MTA and Empire State Development Corp.
as partners, Ratner could come in and trump those decisions.
“It seems to me the intentions of Ratner, [Mayor] Bloomberg, [Deputy
Mayor Daniel] Doctoroff and [Gov. George] Pataki is to get this out of
the City Council review, out of this whole process at the city level going
on now, and get it into state hands,” said Patti Hagan, president
of the Prospect Heights Action Coalition, an anti-Atlantic Yards neighborhood
Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010